LAUREL - Meridian junior Blake Briones enjoyed the first half of his dreams, then showed what a team player he could really be.
Briones, who averaged 3.6 points as a sophomore, swished all three of his 3-point attempts in the opening four minutes. He finished with a career-high 14 points - all in the first half - as the Trojans (4-1) shot 26 for 48 including nine 3-pointers in Meridian's 70-60 non-league win over Blaine (1-4) on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
But where the lanky 6-foot-3 forward also impressed Meridian coach Shane Stacy was with his unselfish defensive showing while taking only two shots in the second half.
"Blake is a chameleon," Stacy said. "He can do so many things. He saved the day when Blaine came out in a triangle and two on the Garcias (returning regular guards Alijah and Edward) and that left Blake open."
Briones said he enjoyed the defensive assignment Stacy gave to him and 6-foot-8 junior Logan Carlson: to focus entirely on covering 6-foot-4 senior forward Zach Rector in the corner.
Rector made all six of his first-half shots, including four 3-pointers, as the Borderites pulled within 40-36 in the opening two quarters. But others had to do most of the second-half shooting as Briones and Carlson limited Rector to two shots, both in the third quarter.
"Coach told us he needed our long arms on defense," said Briones of himself and Carlson.
Nevertheless, Rector's 8 for 8 shooting for 22 points with five 3-pointers helped show that nobody will be able to take for granted the hustle of the Borderites, who seem likely to improve on their 4-16 record last season.
"Rector shot lights out," said first-year Blaine coach Shaun Pile. "Early on, he wasn't aggressive enough. He had a little coming out party against Ferndale and he really picked it up tonight."
Meridian's balance, however, was too much for the Borderites, who pulled within 59-55 in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer and a 2-pointer by quick freshman guard Josiah Westbrook but could get no closer.
The Trojans received solid production from each starter: Alijah Garcia (15 points with four 3-pointers, plus five assists and six rebounds); Edward Garcia (15 points, with six in the fourth quarter); junior post Spencer Blackburn (10 points on 5 for 8 shooting, eight rebounds) and Logan Carlson (12 points on 6 for 8 shooting including four baskets off rebounds, plus eight rebounds). Patrick Carlson and Kelby Todd turned in useful minutes off the bench.
However, Blaine showed it could be good for several upsets behind returning Blaine guard Gabe Trump (14 points, with nine in the second half) and Westbrook, who finished with 15 points on 6 for 12 shooting.
Both teams played the first half with the intensity of a district playoff game. They combined for 26 fouls, 11 3-pointers, 76 points and 27 for 53 shooting from the floor.
Pretty much the only negative for the Trojans was their 9 for 23 free throw miseries.
Edward Garcia's two free throws with 35 seconds remaining wrapped it up at 69-59. Edward, in fact, scored the Trojans' final four points from the line after Logan Carlson scored on a rebound with 2:25 remaining, giving Meridian a 66-57 advantage.
Briones said the Trojans "got a lot closer" in the offseason. Only Blackburn played football among the starters.
"I just decided to be more confident in my shot tonight," Briones said.
Stacy was already confident in his defensive tenacity.
MERIDIAN 70, BLAINE 60
Blaine 19 17 14 10 - 60
Meridian 18 22 17 13 - 70
Blaine: Zach Rector 22, Gabe Trump 14, Josiah Westbrook 15, Ivan Sanchez 4, Tas Scanlan 2, James Fakkema 0, Cole Muder 1, Jericho Probadora 2, Jon Fakkema 0. Totals 21-48 10-18 60.
Meridian: Alijah Garcia 15, Edward Garcia 15, Blake Briones 14, Logan Carlson 12, Spencer Blackburn 10, Kelby Todd 3, Patrick Carlson 1, Chad Richter 0, Sam Chambers 0, Kyle Young 0, Trevin Todd 0. Totals 26-48 9-23 70.
3-pointers: Blaine 8 (Rector 5), Meridian 9 (A. Garcia 4, Briones 3). Rebounds: Meridian 37 (Logan Carlson, Spencer Blackburn 8), Blaine 20 (Rector 7). Assists: Meridian 10 (A. Garcia 5), Blaine 8 (Trump 4). Fouls: Blaine 26 (James Fakkema, Rector); Meridian 19.